The free agents below are ranked by order of importance:
Unrestricted Free Agents:
1. Rafael Bush, S [signed contract with Lions]
Bush was on his way to being an NFL starter when he signed a deal with the Atlanta Falcons during restricted free agency two years ago. The Saints matched that offer sheet and instead he was stuck behind the freshly sign Jairus Byrd. When Byrd got hurt, Bush played pretty well filling in at times, but then he broke his leg at the beginning of 2015 and didn’t play most of the season. The Saints really missed he depth, I felt. He’s always been a solid player for the Saints. They will miss his and depth is now an issue at safety.
2. Tim Hightower, RB
Based on the way he played, I think he’s clearly the #2 back for the Saints behind Ingram right now. Even ahead of Khiry and Spiller. Hightower turns 30 in May so he shouldn’t attract too much interest, and I’d imagine he’ll be back at a reasonable price. Hopefully the veteran minimum.
3. Benjamin Watson, TE [signed contract with Ravens]
Sad to lose him but the money was likely too high.
4. Luke McCown, QB [re-signed to 2 year deal for $3 million]
The big question here is his back. He had an abrupt end to 2015 which included immediate surgery and IR. He’s 35 in July so he may decide that back surgery is the motivation he needed to call it quits. At the same time, he played pretty brilliantly against a Super Bowl defense. If he’s healthy, I can’t imagine a better backup situation. I’d like him back.
5. Kai Forbath, K [re-signed to 1 year deal]
It’s not that I want Forbath to be the kicker in 2016 or that I don’t want young competition. Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo is a guy I’m keeping a close eye on come draft time. In the meantime, Forbath wasn’t too impressive so I’m thinking it should be easy enough to get him to return at marginal cost. You always want a veteran competing in camp – as last year proved. And Forbath is a decent kicker.
6. Michael Hoomanawanui, TE [re-signed to 3 year deal for $5.1 million]
With Watson leaving, the need to keep Hooman heightens. On principle the Saints let go of Akiem Hicks to land him, so I’d rather the return be more than a less than full season rental. It’s not that I have big hopes for the player, but he’s a decent backup that can make the team. Sean Payton seemed to carve out a little role for him and it made the fullback position more expendable. His role may expand with Watson gone.
7. Kevin Williams, DT
He played pretty well and I’d like to see him back. I’d also prefer the Saints address this position in a more serious way. Williams will be 36 in August but he played a full season and showed he still has something in the tank. Retirement, for obvious reasons, is also on the table I’m sure.
8. Jamarca Sanford, S [re-signed to 1 year deal]
He’s not hugely important but it’s just the kind of guy you want on your roster. I am a big fan of Sanford’s. The loss of Bush makes this more important. The enormous pick against Matt Ryan notwithstanding, Sanford plays a limited role on defense. A role that was increased due to Bush’s injury. Sanford is a reliable spot sub, a good special teams player, and a totally dedicated professional. He’s a guy you want in your locker room. Happy he’s back.
9. Kyle Wilson, CB [re-signed to 1 year deal for $840,000]
He had his moments last year. You need to be 5 or 6 deep at corner, minimum, perhaps more. I’m definitely not against having him return at the vet’s minimum. He can play in the slot with some success if injuries demand it.
10. Travaris Cadet, RB [re-signed to 1 year contract]
It’s not imperative he return, especially with Marcus Murphy being a young player that fills a similar niche role, but man – his play at the end of last season sure was impressive. I’d like to see him back if the Saints can afford to do it. At least let him compete in camp. I can’t imagine there will be too much demand.
11. Mike McGlynn, G
Didn’t bring much as a free agent signing in 2015, buried behind Kelemete and Lelito. Despite the rash of benchings and injuries at guard he never saw the field much. Not a priority to re-sign, but back battling for a spot in camp would be fine.
12. James Anderson, OLB
A shell of his former self.
13. Anthony Spencer, OLB
Spent the year on IR. I wouldn’t be against bringing him back to camp, but his career is probably done.
14. Tony Hills, T
Did ok as a backup tackle. He’s not a priority but depth is needed. The fact that Kelemete started over him at left tackle in week 17 tells you how much the Saints trust him. With Armstead and Peat in tow, and Strief possibly coming back, I’d prefer to develop a younger prospect behind them.
15. Matt Flynn, QB
If McCown decides to call it a day, he may have more of a chance to return as the backup. Even then, there’s plenty of similarly abled vet QB’s out there like him.
16. Chris Owens, CB
Did not impress the few times he played. Camp body potential.
17. Kendall Hunter, RB
The Saints were decimated at running back late in the year, but with a number of guys coming back he’s last in the pecking order.
Restricted Free Agents:
With Watson gone and the Saints loving their three tight end sets, retaining Hill was a must. Keeping him is pretty imperative to depth at an already thin position. And there’s a lot of time to task with Hill, he knows the playbook and concepts – he can also provide a lot of value on special teams. I’m still unhappy about losing Tyrunn Walker to this process – glad it won’t happen with Hill.
2. Tim Lelito, G [tendered at low level for $1.671 million]
Ended the season well after being benched. It will be interesting to see what interest he garners not that he’s been tendered and the Saints can match any offer.
3. Senio Kelemete, G [re-signed to 2 year $4 million deal]
I’ve always been a big fan and while he was spotty as a starter in 2015, he really showed his versatile value with an impressive start at tackle in a pinch. He can legitimately back up every position on the line which accentuates his value significantly. A must keep for depth, and he can challenge for a starting spot.
4. Khiry Robinson, RB [signed with Jets]
After his horrific injury it’s going to be real interesting to see how he bounces back.
5. Austin Johnson, FB [re-signed to 1 year minimum deal]
The minimum tender should be enough to keep him. He’s a versatile player and a good locker room guy. He’s part of the team’s core. He’s not a must to keep, but brings a really underrated value to the team.
6. Ryan Seymour, G
Not a priority, but I’m sure he’ll be in camp.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
1. Lawrence Virgil, DT
I was impressed with how he played at Tampa in week 17 of 2014. So much so that I thought he’d be in the mix to compete for a roster spot and playing time in 2015. Unfortunately he ended up on IR with an injury and never played in 2015. Still a nice developmental project, hopefully he can bounce back.
2. Austin Brown, DT
Not a priority, but I’m sure he’ll be in camp.
Ramon Humber (signed with Patriots)
Signed Free Agents:
Josh Scobee – K – 1 year contract for $985,000 (Steelers)
Erik Harris – SS – (CFL)
Coby Fleener – TE – 5 years $36 million (Colts)
Nate Stupar – LB – Signed contract (Falcons)
James Laurinaitis – LB – Signed contract (Rams)
Craig Robertson – LB – Signed contract (Browns)
Nick Fairley – DT (1 year deal posing as 3 years) (Rams)